Gyumri Music School Recovers From Ruins

by Tom Vartabedian

We dnesday March 03, 2010

Gyumri, Armenia – The sound of music is alive and well inside the
Tigranyan Institute.

Talented children are playing their instruments behind closed doors
while parents gather, wait, listen and hope.

Inside the main auditorium, a young diva is exercising her voice
before an audience that includes Sebouh Apkarian, artistic director
and conductor of the famed KOHAR Symphony Orchestra and Choir.

He’s there like he always is, scouting new talent and lending
encouragement. You can’t miss him. He’s the gentleman in the front
row with snow-white hair listening attentively and taking notes.

Obviously, he likes what he sees in this young nightingale.

"He’s very supportive to the youngsters who know that being in a
program with KOHAR and traveling around the world to perform would
be the ultimate," said Gayane Manoukian, the school principal. "They
all want to make a big impression."

Twenty-one years ago, a devastating earthquake sent tremors and shock
waves through northern Armenia, including Gyumri, claiming more than
25,000 lives.

The children here are too young to remember but continuously hear the
stories, not like Manoukian who experienced the tragedy first-hand
and lived to tell about it.

"I was at home with a newborn child when the earthquake struck," she
recalls. "I ran out into the street and saw buildings toppling over.

Two minutes can lead to a lifetime of tragedy and hardship. Many
of my closest friends were lost. Every time I think about it,
I’m devastated."

Like so many others, Manoukian pitched in, helping those in need and
rebuilding her city in the aftermath.

The 80-year-old Tigranyan Institute was among the casualties,
toppled in ruins. Life was uncertain. Recovery was slow. But they
were determined. Trailers served as temporary classrooms amid the
rubble along Abovian Street.

"For six years, we worked out of a fallout shelter, then moved into
a building with no heat." Manoukian traced back. "Winters were severe.

For 15 years, the school operated like that. People were poor. Homes
were devastated. The ultimate sacrifice was always being made."

Today, the institute boasts some 390 students between the ages of
7-15 and 75 instructors, housed in an adjacent building that once
served as a factory. The lyrical sounds of young soloists are mingled
with instruments that conserve the Armenian heritage and sustain its
national character.

Not all are traditional pieces. A certain emphasis is placed on such
Armenian instruments as the kanoun, duduk and tar. Choreography is
yet another staple.

As concertmaster and first violinist of the KOHAR Orchestra, the
49-year-old Manoukian also serves as a role model for these students.

It’s more than music here but a way of life. Through performance,
careers are established and money is earned — resources that are
currently scarce in Armenia.

A nominal tuition is assessed for those who can afford it. Assistance
is also met through the government. The faculty is paid, however
slight. Instruments are provided.

Students attend normal school elsewhere, then matriculate here for
further education. It makes for a long, but productive day.

Among the notable groups is YerazArt, a troupe of pristine young
singers which recently completed a successful tour of North America.

"We prepare them for the conservatory," said Manougian. "Many have
succeeded and carried the name of Gyumri to prominence. That we like to
see. My students mean the world to me. Without them, I am very lonely."

What you should know about Gyumri *Population: 170,000, center of
the region of Shirak and is Armenia’s second-largest city.

*Significant emigration over the past 20 years as a result of the
earthquake of Dec. 7, 1988 which claimed more than 25,000 lives.

Before the earthquake, the population was roughly 240,000.

*In recent years, Gyumri has began to finally emerged from its
post-earthquake legacy. Shipping containers that people once used for
shelter have been mostly replaced by more permanent and attractive

*Gyumri’s Tigranyan Music Institute houses 390 students (ages 7-15)
and 75 instructors.

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